"Choose Your Own Adventure, Horror Edition."
It's inevitable that people will scream at characters in a horror movie: “Don't go in there!” “Why would you trust him?!” The beauty of Until Dawn is that it takes the horror movie premise and adds a layer of choice. Maybe the player doesn't go in there, and maybe they don't align with the shady character. The novelty doesn't outweigh all of the flaws in the E3 hands-on demo I spent time with, but there are some real moments of tension and horror in the upcoming PlayStation 4 release.
The Until Dawn E3 demo begins in medias res, though it takes time to detail prior events. A group of young adults find themselves stranded in the snowy woods with a mysterious murderer, and players take control of a couple as they are approached by a group of possibly murderous deer. It's simultaneously creepy and silly, much like most horror films. In fact, the game includes the trademark corny dialogue one would expect from a game inspired by the genre—Until Dawn clearly knows its audience.
It doesn't take long for the game to present its first choice, in which I had to choose a path for Matt to climb after he attacks a deer and falls over a cliff. Until Dawn includes multiple choices over the course of the demo, and each one alters the story in both subtle and big ways. In fact, Matt died on that cliff when GameRevolution's Jessica Vazquez played the demo, though his fate wasn't much better following the deer fiasco in my hands-on time with the game. It hints at some variety in player choice, though it felt like there weren't enough choices.
There are some big decisions at the end of the demo, but the entire middle of it just involves walking and exploring. On some level it establishes atmosphere, but the shaky framerate detracts from the immersion. Also, the game features a few tedious quick-time events that interfere with the focus of Until Dawn. It's about carving out your own path, not pressing the X button in two seconds to avoid death. The opening cliff scene in particular puts real pressure on the player with its timing—I felt like I was lucky every time I successful hit the button.
Even with its flaws, there's a certain appeal to choosing how a group of young adults will probably die. Actually, some of them might escape. All I know is that Matt suffered a violent death at the end of my demo. Even with my errors along the way, I enjoyed how I shaped the narrative—I just wish there was more of it and less of the quick-time events. Until Dawn comes out on August 25 for PlayStation 4.